Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 13: Final Battle and Conclusion

This is the conclusion of our Ocarina notes project. You can see all the parts here
Part 13: Final Battle and Conclusion

Ganon: Final Battle

Perculia: While the chase sequence after Ganon destroys the castle gave me an opportunity to watch Link and Zelda interact, the sequence felt out of place. We haven’t had a timed escort event like this in Ocarina and it comes across a bit jarring tacked on at the end. Most puzzles have focused on unlocking rooms cleverly and exploration–this is just a timed obstacle course.

Hamlet: Yeah, it’s not that interesting of a sequence. It is out of place in Zelda; for one, it’s something people associate with Metroid. But the latter had enough of a jumping/platforming element to make an action-style escape work. Ocarina‘s core movement and control wasn’t made for that; it was made primarily to serve the combat. And this was recognized in the final sequence; it’s nothing more than some timed combat. Maybe that could have been interesting if they’d put in something unique, but it would have been hard due to some of the combat limitations I’ve mentioned before.

P: As for the final encounter, after the variety of tools used in Ganon’s Castle, it was refreshing to see this final fight hinge on Zelda and Link’s signature items–the Master Sword and Light Arrows. Defeating Ganon simply required stunning him with Light Arrows and slashing at his tail, until he was weakened enough that Zelda opened a portal and you had enough time to grab the Master Sword and finish him off. The chance at failure is high–if you’re not sure what to do at first, taking a hit from Ganon can be costly. Like the previous Ganon fight, it’s possible to restore resources mid-fight, but it’s much more stressful here. To get more items or health, you must kite Ganon into some rubble and have him smash it to bits while dodging it–much less soothing than jumping down out of harm’s way and leisurely breaking pots. The drama is also heightened by the ring of fire separating Link from Zelda during the fight, as well as Ganon knocking the Master Sword out of Link’s hand. The final boss is also notable because it’s the one time Zelda and Link are actively working together to take down a boss.

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H: I think I never figured out the Light Arrow bit on my own, initially. I beat Ganon just by maneuvering behind him; I recall a lot of circle-strafing. Honestly, it’s kind of a silly encounter either way. Not only is it less interesting than most of the encounters in the game, but just like with the escape sequence, it’s hard to see why anything after the Ganondorf fight was needed. Maybe that’s the reason I never even thought to try Light Arrows: my instinct was that if there was going to be something after Ganondorf, it would be one final pure challenge and dodging and using sword attacks. But everything about this final dungeon, and about the game as a whole, built up to a strong cadence at the Ganondorf encounter.

Zelda and Lore

P: Throughout the second half of Ocarina, I had wondered about Zelda’s absence. She was set up in the first half of Ocarina as a wiser and more powerful counterpart to Child Link, but she’d been absent since last seeing fleeing Ganon. All of the other characters encountered during Child Link’s era had their plotlines poignantly develop in the second half of Ocarina, whether its Saria leaving the Kokiri Forest to become the Forest Sage, or Talon losing Lon Lon Ranch. Throughout all this turmoil, Zelda was conspicuously absent and passive. We only learn of her agency when she reveals herself to be Sheik–Link’s mysterious and playfully-rude guide. Zelda-as-Sheik also deepened her personality–she was depicted as poised and polite in early Ocarina, wearing a gorgeous dress and sitting in a guarded palace. In Sheik’s disguise, she demonstrated that she was an adventurer, skilled fighter, and a bit feisty, as seen in her signature move where she throws Deku Seeds at Link.

H: I was thinking of this when you mentioned just now that Zelda helped Link fight Ganon. I still don’t think that was all too exciting just for this reason; her Shiek storyline already said a lot more about her character than any token participation in an escape sequence.

Zelda’s character in general took a big step forward in Ocarina. In the earlier games she was just an offscreen object of rescue (Except Link’s Awakening, which didn’t feature Zelda, and notably didn’t have any stand-in character in a similar role). Sheik was a great way to pull her into the story proper, especially since nobody expected it at the time. You do come away with a sense and she and Link are equals (and, in a sense, Ganondorf as well). This must be intentional, since the later cutscenes with the Triforce map those three characters onto its three parts. A very neat way of taking the three characters that are prominent in the series and building them into the iconic series motif that is, conveniently, an equilateral triangle.

LinkSentToPast

P: While playing, I had some questions about minor lore details, but it’s important to remember that when playing the game, many of these lore details came across as fast-paced reveals instead of detailed backstories to be analyzed. For example, in retrospect, I’m curious what Zelda as the seventh sage means after time is reversed–all the other sages are seen flying across the sky, separated from their friends, but she’s back in her castle during the credits. One lore detail that did stand out at the time was that the Triforce is not a predictable form of power. Zelda’s actions may have possibly played into Ganon’s plan, which is ironic for the Sage of Wisdom. After defeating Ganon, Zelda says goodbye to Link, and partially blames herself for the tragedy since she believes she didn’t know how to fully control her power. Zelda disguising herself as Sheik also looked initially clever on the surface, but was later revealed to perfectly play into Ganon’s plan of luring both Link and Zelda to him. Each element of the Triforce isn’t inherently good or bad–Ganon abuses Power, Zelda mistakenly uses Wisdom, Link is essentially tricked into channeling Courage, which isn’t communicated to him until the very end. It would be easy to stereotype everything about Ganon as a classic villain, yet, as one of the cutscenes summarizes, the three elements of the Triforce combined, including Power, can be used for amazing things. We also see this in visiting the Great Fairy fountains, where fairies of Courage, Wisdom, and Power each give Link beneficial spells–the Courage fairy is not an “evil” fairy.

H: This reminds me of one other curious thing about Zelda series stories. A lot of people refer to them as “sequels” but they’re not; they’re retellings of the same story. I’m referring mainly to the main series games, not offshoots and handhelds. The original Legend of Zelda, Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword are all the story of Link’s quest to recover the Master Sword, rescue (while often being aided by) Zelda, and explore ancient dungeons to seek the Triforce before Ganon and save Hyrule from his influence. It’s honestly kind of silly to imagine these same events happening repeatedly so many times in the lives of all these people and the history of Hyrule. When the Hyrule Historia book came out and supposedly gave a “canonical” order to all the Zelda stories including offshoots like Four Swords, I thought it was a misguided sort of fan service (and I never spent any time parsing through it). It’s much cooler to think of the stores as they actually are: variations on a theme. It has the feel of an oral tradition in which the only thing passed down the shell of the story I described above, but whoever’s writing it each time comes up with a new approach.

Slight exception here for the Link Between Worlds, just coming out now, which is explicitly a sequel to Link to the Past, but that doesn’t change the general point about the relationship between all these stories.

Credits

Creditssages

P: The credits found a perfect balance between lighthearted celebration and poignancy. Everyone dancing together (such as the Gorons next to a can-can line of Gerudo guards and the twirling Hyrule couple) was joyous and a bit tongue-in-cheek. After so much turmoil in the second half of Ocarina, it was cathartic to see not only each region restored to prosperity, but also the world’s inhabitants rejoicing. What elevated the credits from a simply pleasant experience into a memorable one though was how it incorporated feelings of sacrifice and loneliness. Admist all the dancing, King Zora and Mido from Kokiri Forest are sadly sitting by themselves, thinking of their Sage friends who aren’t among them. They look up to see green and blue stars in the sky, representing Princess Ruto and Saria, and then the stars of the other Sages join them, as if to show they’re not lonely. It’s comforting, but still sad, as the Sages can’t go back to their carefree existences–Saria can’t go back to simply being Link’s friend, and Princess Ruto won’t be reunited with her father and unfreeze Zora’s Domain. The credits then cut to the sages landing on a rock far away and looking pleased with themselves, but it’s still awfully sad–the little group on a forlorn rock doesn’t compare to the large crowd noisily celebrating in Hyrule. Conspicuously absent from the credits so far are Link and Zelda. She’d been pretty adamant that Link was going to return the Ocarina to her, return to his childhood, and proceed onwards as if nothing had happened. Yet in the credits, Link hadn’t been spotted celebrating with the villagers, and Zelda wasn’t traveling in the sky with the other sages. When we do see child Link meet up with Zelda again, it’s not just satisfying that the two main characters are shown to be safe and united, it’s that after helping each other for the greater good and being bound by the Triforce, it’s nice to see them reunited by their own free will. To me, when Navi flies away, (not a beloved character by any means, but still touching), it signifies not only that Link’s quest is complete, but that he’s free to make his own decisions now. We started Ocarina with Link being teased for not having a fairy, and now he’s right back to where he was, young and unarmed–except he’s learnt valuable lessons about power and loyalty.

H: I don’t have too much to add here, that’s a great description of the ending. I always kind of like sentimental game endings that do the “visit all the characters you met on the way” montage. The process is often sad too, like you say (Link’s Awakening took this to another level).

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Conclusion

H: I’m not going to recapitulate all my thoughts on Ocarina here in this paragraph; reading the posts themselves should have given everyone a good sense. I tried to focus a more critical eye at times because it was a pretty unique project for me to revisit a well-loved game in this much depth, and with this much emphasis on the eyes of a new player. When it first came out, the anticipation was incredible. Especially when I was younger and didn’t follow new games as closely, being really worked up about an impending release was rare for me. It did fulfill my expectations, which is pretty impressive given how high they were. Certainly none of rough edges I’ve discussed in the posts stood out to me then. The game is only more impressive when you consider the time of its release, when 3D adventure games were new; it was revolutionary.

So Ocarina definitely meant a lot to me as a kid playing games, even thought it wasn’t my first Zelda game (that was Link’s Awakening, probably still the one I have the fondest memories of out of all of them). The only thing that’s changed is that replays of the standout 2D games (Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening), as I’ve gotten older and more analytical about games, reveals that they have some elements of free exploration and richness of world that was never perfectly recreated in 3D. As I’ve emphasized, the problem is not with Ocarina, which is very deserving of its spot on every “best of all time” list that magazines and websites publish. But perhaps its 3D descendants failed to truly innovate on the exemplary starting point that Ocarina provided. I’ve not yet played Link Between Worlds, but I am tremendously excited to see how they take Link to the Past and bring to the modern 3D era along a different axis than the one that was used for Ocarina. Revisiting Ocarina only emphasized to me that, while it was a masterpiece, after 15 years the series is ready to move on from attempting to recreate its magic.

P: I started playing Zelda around the time my schedule drastically changed due to my new job and I couldn’t continue with my old gaming habits. Being able to play Zelda on the go was a new gaming experience for me and helped with my transition. And continually analyzing how I responded to Ocarina‘s world–how I solved puzzles, what sections I got stuck on, what optional content I found particularly interesting–helped me learn more about my interests and habits.

It’s interesting to note, looking back, that my introduction to Ocarina came when we were watching a speed run marathon–the Ocarina run wasn’t just a straightforward run, but instead hit up all the dungeons out-of-order. I didn’t know anything about the game and hadn’t progressed very far in Chrono Trigger at that point, but the quirky details of the world, stripped of its narrative, still drew me in and I watched and enjoyed the entire speed run.

Also, I remember that around the time we started this blogging project, we thought that we missed an opportunity by not blogging about my experience with Chrono Trigger. I had just finished playing that game and we thought its genre would have been a better fit for a long blog series than Ocarina. But I think we can say that thirteen Ocarina blogs later, blogging about all of the temples and optional content has turned out well.

H: And this long after its release, it still passed the most important test. You, as a newcomer to this series and even to this kind of game entirely, had a great time playing it.

 

Ocarina-of-Time-Ending-Scene

One thought on “Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 13: Final Battle and Conclusion

  1. What a great game. Part of what makes Ocarina’s world and setting so amazing is the all the unfinished pieces, the rough edges. Sometimes games try to build a world like a narrative, where every detail serves some purpose of structure, and I don’t think this works for exploration and open worlds. An authentic place has a subtle mixture of random detail and deliberate structure, and there’s an art to creating worlds that blend these paradigms in a way that feels authentic. Ocarina fucking nailed it, whether by accident or by choice.

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